Mahadi Buthelezi celebrates the start of spring by reflecting on some of the lessons that COVID-19 has taught us. Just as we have had to adapt to new ways of interacting with one another, she also challenges us to find new solutions to today’s social and environmental problems.
The first rain on 1 September in Johannesburg marked the start of spring. It is also a springtime in our lives, a time of hope and rebirth amid the scourge and gloom of the COVID-19 pandemic. The “old” world is gone as we have adapted to the “new normal” of washing our hands, wearing face masks, sanitizing, and maintaining physical distancing.
Could we possibly have imagined clean and fumigated cities, taxi ranks and houses? We have found ourselves turning to germophobes, disinfecting everything we buy before putting it away into our kitchen cupboards. Our houses are overly clean for fear of germs. These changes have taught us that we need to adapt to these new challenges to ensure that we do not become sick or make ourselves ill with worry.
Beyond our own immediate concerns, the pandemic has alerted us to the far greater environmental challenge that humanity needs to adapt to a changing world. This too, requires a change of perspective.
Lessons learnt from the pandemic
A very good example is that there are two questions we can ask when we see a deer crossing the road: Is the deer crossing the road or is the road crossing the nature reserve?
We typically think that we own the world and everything that is in it. From this perspective the deer is indeed encroaching on our built-up human environment. But we forget that the animals were living here naturally long before humankind, their cities, or their roads.
During the months when the world went into almost total shutdown, we saw clearer skies, fresher air, cleaner rivers and bird life in abundance. For a few short weeks, nature began to heal. This virus has demonstrated that there is a greater pandemic: the destruction of our natural world. We pollute the environment, destroy the ozone layer, and fill the atmosphere with every kind of noise. What lessons is nature sending us? As we enter the rebirth of spring, we perhaps need to reflect on and listen deeply to the cries of our planet earth.
The start of spring is a celebration of new life — with its blossoming flowers and the rebirth of nature. May this spring also bring about hope and spiritual rebirth from the depression and anxiety resulting from the loss of loved ones, jobs or even loss of self.
Our Lady as a new springtime for the Church
The Church also celebrates Our Lady’s birthday on 8 September. As we celebrate her life, we draw strength from the Queen of the Apostles who continuously encouraged them in their Christ-given mission. Mary represents the eternal springtime as the Tabernacle of the Most High, for in her womb, the hope of humanity was born anew. Many of us have been challenged with the closure of the places of worship during lock-down and have had to rediscover and renew our faith from our homes. We were reminded that we are the church, the living tabernacles.
The church building is a place of worship and where we congregate as the one Body of Christ. Sadly, the pandemic has also exposed some of the Church’s shortcomings in dealing with hard-hitting social issues affecting the lives of its congregants and communities. The lockdown revealed the seriousness of gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) in our society. The most recent corruption scandal showed that many leaders at all levels of society think nothing about stealing from the poor — the hardest hit by the economic impact of the pandemic.
The formal Church structures did not do enough to respond and act to these violations of human dignity, possibly because it did not know how to go about addressing these issues. This reflects the lack of training for the laity and the clergy. In times of great upheaval, there are always those who can adapt to changing circumstances, and lay people in many communities began to develop materials to help the local Church in responding to these challenges.
Creating a new normal
The experiences of this year are a call to action. We cannot go back to doing things as we did before. We need to adapt to a new environment. Perhaps this reawakening is just what we needed.
Cleanliness, hygiene, caring for nature, and reducing pollution may just be our true normal. Imagine if we could create a new world that promotes genuine human interaction and care for our fellow human beings and nature. We are all called to be environmentalists and care for our “common home.”
More than COVID-19, the real pandemics of our time are corruption, human trafficking, injustice, racism, inequality and GBVF. May this springtime remind us that our purpose is to bring a new world into being that heals and restores those who have suffered injustice.